Cole Ashby called it a shot you dream of.
It ended up sealing Eastern Oregon’s furious rally and earning the Mountaineers what they called their biggest win of the season.
Ashby scored a game-high 23 points and hit the eventual winning 3-pointer with 24 seconds to play, and the Mountaineers stormed back from a 22-point deficit to stun No. 16 Warner Pacific, 82-79, in a Cascade Collegiate Conference thriller Saturday night at Quinn Coliseum.
“As a little kid you’re dreaming of that,” Ashby said. “It’s the one thing you want to do. Every time in the past you’re always counting down the shot (clock), hitting the shot at the end.”
On the winning play, Max McCullough drove to the basket, passed the ball out to Jordan May in the corner, who then swung it to Ashby on the deep elbow, whose shot broke a 79-all tie and sent Quinn Coliseum, which had been getting more raucous during Eastern’s comeback, into delirium.
“I have to give Jordan (credit). He had an open shot but he passed it up to me at the end,” Ashby, who was 5-for-9 from 3-point range, said.
Warner Pacific got two good looks at a tie in the waning seconds, but Josh Thomas missed from the corner and Collin Malcolm was just off on a stepback 3-pointer on the final play.
“Warner Pacific is no joke. I’ve got them as my dark horse winning the conference,” EOU head coach Carlito Labarda, Jr. said. “So to beat a team of this caliber with their athletic ability and their skills is a huge win for us. It was just a great team effort for these guys. They just grinded. That’s what it was. It was a battle.”
It’s not the first time Ashby has come up with a clutch shot this season. On Dec. 30 he hit the winning 3-pointer with under a minute to play to help EOU escape with a victory at Walla Walla.
“He’s defending. He’s passing. He’s hitting clutch 3s, and he doesn’t take bad shots...He’s taking smart shots,” Labarda said of Ashby. “That’s a key for him. That’s why his numbers are so efficient.”
Labarda added the win, which came after EOU was down 46-24 late in the first half and 50-33 at the break, shows the mental toughness of the team, which won its sixth straight game.
“We’ve been down like this before,” he said. “This team has resilience. They don’t panic. They knew we couldn’t get it back in one huge two- or three-minute session. We had goals. Cut it down to 10 with 10 minutes to go. We overdid ourselves, which is a good thing. This team, they’re just tough….This is probably the biggest win of the season for us.”
EOU retook the lead, 59-58, on a pair of May free throws with 11:59 to play. The game turned into a seesaw affair, with four ties and seven lead changes down the stretch.
And when one team threw a punch, the other team had a response. Thomas gave WPC a three-point lead with a layup before McCullough hit three free throws to tie the score at 62-all. Austin Winegar, who had 19 points, hit a jumper for a 67-64 lead with 9:09 left. WPC went back ahead, 69-67, on a Morros Bethea trey before Ashby countered with a triple.
Even late, when EOU built its largest lead on a 3-pointer and a layup by Winegar, the Knights didn’t go away. Malcolm and Winegar traded layups to make it a 79-74 EOU lead. Keaton Bankofier then drained a trey to pull the Knights within two and De’Jon Bowman tied the score with 49 seconds to play before Ashby’s dagger.
Eastern slowly inched back from the major first-half deficit, which The Knights built up thanks to a 22-4 run to go up 22 on a Malcolm layup.
EOU finished the half strong to stay within 17 at the break, then slowly chipped away. Jumpers by Ashby and Winegar made it 53-41 with 16:09 to play. McCullough’s 3-pointer cut the gap to nine, then he hit another to make it 55-49 at the 14:47 mark. A trey from May and a jumper by Brennan Pope trimmed it to 57-54.
“It was just that we won every two minutes. Every three minutes. Every four minutes,” Winegar, who had 13 of his points in the second half, said. “We just played little games and outscored them for that (stretch). We stopped them on defense. Those little chip-aways add up. Eventually you come within two points, and you say to yourself, ‘Holy smokes, we can win this thing.’”
Ashby and Winegar also called the victory the biggest win of the season, but Winegar added, “every game from here on out is the biggest game of our season.”
McCullough had 19 points and May scored 12 for EOU (16-3 overall, 8-3 CCC), which moved into second place in the conference with the win. Malcolm had 20 points and 11 rebounds to lead WPC, while Xavier Cannefax had 16.
EOU 96, Multnomah 90: Max McCullough scored 26 points, Cole Ashby and Austin Winegar had 19 each, and Eastern Oregon rallied in the second half to knock off upset-minded Multnomah.
The Lions led by as much as seven points in the second half, were up by five with nine minutes to play and up 83-81 with four minutes to go before the Mountaineers finished strong. Jordan May connected on a 3-pointer to give EOU the lead for good, then Ashby, McCullough and Winegar all scored to put Eastern ahead 90-85 with just 1:10 left. Multnomah pulled no closer than four points the rest of the way.
EOU was able to shake off a 45-34 rebound disadvantage and a 9-for-29 effort from 3-point land to earn the win. Winegar added eight rebounds, while McCullough led the Mountaineers with six assists.
EOU travels to Corban to continue CCC play Friday.